This festival is now into its second year, having proved a hit in 2015 and was back with a bang this Summer, packing an eclectic bill of depth and quality across four stages and two days.
Mote Park lies on the outskirts of Maidstone, hardly the cradle of rock n roll excess (to which pretty views across the arena to the High Weald would attest), but the place made for a good venue. Apart from the myriad queues for tickets, passes and wristband exchange to get in, that is.
I just about navigated the bureaucracy in time to present myself at the main stage for opening act Inglorious. There is a good deal of hype surrounding the band just now, which is often a worrying sign. However, right from the moment the band hit the stage to the strains of The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, Inglorious stamped class across their performance.
Nathan Jones is a naturally gregarious frontman, with an intimidating Plant-esque voice. He was absolutely up for this gig and the first ‘scream for me Ramblin’ Man!’ arrived within 30 seconds of their opener ‘Until I Die’. The exuberance showed itself on one or two occasions when Jones tried to do a little too much on some of the big choruses. Minor quibble though.
The sound cut out a couple of times and to the band’s credit, their stride did not falter. One huge riff-driven cut followed another. ‘Breakaway’ was a muscular workout and the bass rumble of ‘High Flying Gypsy’ featured some classic Kashmir overtones. Swedish guitarist Eriksson really shone on just about the best tune, ‘Holy Water’. There was also a great cover of Rainbow’s ‘I Surrender’. It’s hard to believe this lot are only one album old. This was a very convincing Festival opener.
Next up were the supergroup ‘collective’, Dead Daisies. The band’s revolving cast list for this tour threw up main men John Corabi on vocals, Marco Mendoza on bass and the incendiary Doug Aldrich on lead guitar. They hammered out a set of pure showbiz with Corabi doing his best Cap’n Jack Sparrow impersonation and Brian Tichy sat behind the most ridiculously ostentatious drum kit ever assembled.
The sound was full and well balanced. Opener ‘Mighty Moses’ set a good standard. As did another cover, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ later on. The band’s own material didn’t carry the same weight though. New one ‘Make Some Noise’ came across as a rather formulaic stadium anthem and even ‘Lock ‘n’ Load’ was a bit ploddy. A mixed bag, lacking a little sparkle from the big boys.
Time to check out another stage. I scurried over to the Outlaw Country tent to see southern rockers Hogjaw. I’d heard their ‘Rise To The Mountains’ album last year and had been impressed. Live, they brought an intensity and rawness to that material. If this was country, it was filtered through a blizzard of neat speed. Infectious riffs and massive drums filled the tent.
The pace slowed a little on the Lynyrd Skynyrd-infused ‘Where Have You Gone?’ with some bluesy vocals from frontman Jonboat Jones, who also wielded lead guitar and later whipped out the harmonica to good effect too.
Hogjaw are big quartet of lads. All check shirts and grizzled looks. They put down an early marker for most hirsute band on show. It’s a long shortlist though.
Best track of the set was ‘County Line’, an epic of soaring twin-lead guitar licks over a military drum beat. ‘Am I Wrong’ saw sticksman J “Killer” Kowalski take over vocal duties with a sharp, rasping delivery on a bass driven track. ‘Swamp’ was chock full of fat, dirty riffs with a sleazy monotone talkover section in the middle.
This mini classic of a slot ended with ‘This Whiskey’, featuring a regretful vocal and a funky mid-track switchover which took me by surprise. It was introduced by Jonboat as ‘a song about drinking whiskey…’! No frills with these boys. Just tell it like it is. Great stuff.
Back to the main stage for Terrorvision. I had honestly forgotten how refreshingly good Terrorvision are. Off my radar since they split in 2001, their reunion gigs and one new record in 2011 had passed me by.
The Bradford boys kicked off with the brilliant ‘Alice, What’s the Matter’ at a frenetic pace. Singer Tony Wright was dressed in distinctly un-rock ‘n’ roll dusty orange strides and polo shirt. You’d be forgiven for thinking he was ready for a round of golf until he started leaping around the stage like a 10 year old.
The edgy, pop-infused hits kept coming: ‘Pretend Best Friend’, ‘D’Ya Wanna Go Faster’ and ‘Celebrity Hit List’ all smashed out with energy and verve. The guitars had a pleasant growl above the sometimes quirky arrangements and clever, ironic lyrics.
The crowd was much thinner than for either Inglorious or Dead Daisies. Perhaps a reflection of the band’s low profile these last 15 years. Those who were elsewhere missed a treat with spontaneous outbreaks of dancing down the front. Welcome back. We’ve missed you.
I hightailed it back to the Outlaw Country stage to see a new band to me, Whiskey Myers. I was not disappointed. Neither was the crowd assembled there in anticipation. The tent was absolutely rammed for this Texan 6-piece.
The band grooved out a rich, full sound laced with gorgeous southern boogie. So comfortable and fluid, it was like shuffling into your favourite slippers. The melodies and vocal harmonies fell naturally into place over some dirty riffs and big rhythms. The songs were well crafted with great use of tension, drama and change of pace – the drummer unafraid to mix things up with a staccato beat every so often.
I didn’t identify many of the titles, such was my unfamiliarity with the band, but ‘Proud Man’ introduced as a track from the band’s forthcoming album ‘Mud’ really stood out. I’ll be scouring the shelves for it come September.
Ginger Wildheart was next up on the main stage. Ginger rarely fails to deliver and this was another whole-hearted performance.
In truth, it took a little time for the band to warm to the task. Openers ‘Take It All Why Don’tcha’ and ‘Anyway But Maybe’ sounded bass heavy and dense, failing to connect with the crowd in any great way. ‘Sonic Shake’ moved things up a gear though, and the track’s immediate rock/punk delivery soon had everyone’s attention. ‘Mother City’ lifted the spirits further with its boogie charms.
Ginger was directing operations front and centre with the troops gathered round, bass-meister Toshi on his left looking supremely cool.
‘It’s A Nasty Habit You’ve Got There’ briefly lost the gig some momentum just as it was heading skywards, but soon a couple of fan favourites brought the tempo back up again: ‘Mazel Tov Cocktail’ and ‘Top Of The World’ from Ginger’s Wildhearts repertoire sealed the deal. I could have done with a mighty ‘Suckerpunch’ to brace me for Europe’s set, but this was mostly damn fine entertainment, even without it.
And so to the poster boys of melodic rock: Europe announced their arrival on stage in typically melodramatic style with billowing dry ice and a portentous soundscape. In moments, Joey Tempest was flush in our faces, performing unspeakable gyrations with his white microphone stand.
This has been my longstanding problem with Europe. Too much style over substance. They look great and don’t leave any showbiz trick in the pack. But do they really cut the mustard live?
Well, I think I had a bit of an epiphany on the road to Maidstone. Europe nailed it.
Maybe I was high on the Festival experience and easy prey for the band’s pomp. Or in Brexit denial. Whatever it was, this was a thoroughly enjoyable set. An early highlight was ‘Rock The Night’ with a lovely bit of Hammond organ bubbling up under John Norum’s slicing guitar. This was a crowd sing-a-long moment (one of many) where devotees around me were punching the air, clearly in a mood to rock the night oh-oh-oh.
Even the frankly ridiculous ‘Last Look At Eden’ with its epic synth strings and dramatic poses sounded great. Joey was a having a top time, prowling the stage in his natty studded leatherette shirt, telling us how good it was to be “back in the cradle of rock”. He must have been sweaty in that heat.
‘Scream of Anger’, ‘Sign Of The Times’ and the excellent ‘Nothing To Ya’ were about the heaviest tracks on show and provided ample showcasing for John Norum’s pyrotechnics. ‘Cherokee’ was good fun with its riff and melody a deadringer for Rainbow’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’.
In no time at all it was time for that bloody song. The real reason why I’ve struggled with this band for so long. I was in a tiny minority though. The crowd absolutely exploded around the unforgettable keyboard riff to ‘The Final Countdown’. Parp! They – we – lapped it up. Even that classic couplet “We’re heading for Venus/And still we stand tall/’Cause maybe they’ve seen us/And welcome us all”… Solid gold Festival fodder.
On the way over to try and see a smidgeon of Uriah Heep on the prog stage, I was accompanied by a gaggle of middle aged women chorusing ‘De-de-der-der, de-de-der-der-der’ at the top of their voices.
I failed to see much of the Heep owing to a late start. They began with the wonderful ‘Gypsy’ which was a bonus. Mick Box received a huge cheer and great to see Phil Lanzon high up on the centre-stage riser directing operations with a majesterial air and jazz hands behind his keyboard stack, his grey locks blowing freely in the evening breeze.
This was the worst clash of the day because I had to hop back to the main stage for Thin Lizzy. Whether or not it is right that this band call themselves Lizzy (I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about it) there could be no mistaking the quality of the gig. The classics simply billowed from the stage in waves of melodic hard rock nectar.
It’s all about the songs. And they stand up so well. The band captured the very essence of that twin guitar attack. If you closed your eyes, Ricky Warwick had enough of the inflections and tone to convince you it might just be the man himself. All the punters round me seemed happy enough.
The setlist was fairly diverse. No-nonsense stomper ‘Are You Ready’ and the keyboard-laden ‘Angel Of Death’ would probably be the least exposed. All the early classics were here, but nothing more challenging from their best later album, ‘Thunder And Lightning’. No surprise really as the surviving members Scott Gorham and Darren Wharton were allegedly less happy with that heavier material.
‘Jailbreak’ was a great choice for set opener and it was onwards and upwards from there. Tom Hamilton on bass from Aerosmith excelled on ‘Killer On The Loose’ and Damon Johnson from Alice Cooper’s band was really smart throughout. Scott Gorham worked the stage like the senior pro he is.
‘Emerald’ and ‘Rosalie’ were real crowd-pleasers and then old Midge Ure was wheeled out for ‘Cowboy Song’ and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. Warwick joked that Ure used to claim he was the worst guitarist to feature in Lizzy. “Well not now that I’ve joined!” he said. A mass sing-a-long for ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ brought the curtain down on a sure fire winner.
Such a ringing endorsement cannot so easily be made for Whitesnake’s schizophrenic headlining slot. It’s hard to know exactly where Coverdale is at with this band because it didn’t feel like a gig that was entirely in tune with either the day or the times in general.
‘Bad Boys’ was a reasonable enough balls-out rocker to start off with. This was followed up with a great version of ‘Slide It In’, a firm nod to the band’s blues rock heritage.
Then things went a bit odd. ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’ and ‘The Deeper The Love’ were fairly lacklustre and remote. And when Coverdale came to speak to the crowd, he was vaguely dismissive of the venue as a Festival destination and just a bit churlish all round.
He then led the band through one of the most soulless renditions of ‘Fool For Your Loving’ I’ve ever heard. Any last vestiges of emotion on the song were extinguished by a tuneless and clunky technocrat solo from Joel Hoekstra.
As if to emphasis the inconsistency, ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City’ was impressive. Respectful, tender, powerful and played to suit Coverdale’s vocal range. Later, ‘Crying In The Rain’ was also top notch. Coverdale was clearly not hitting – or even attempting – the high notes and there was enough gravel in his voice to pave the access road behind the stage. The band’s backing vocals carried many of the big choruses.
This would have been less of a problem had any semblance of continuity not been trashed by the number of set piece solos. The first two arrived after ‘Ain’t No Love…’ when the stage cleared to leave Hoekstra to deliver a dull-but-fast tear up and down the fretboard in an overwrought piece of blatant and boring indulgence. He immediately made way for Reb Beach to deliver a painful acoustic solo before a few of his own electric histrionics.
The band had barely been back onstage a track or two before they disappeared again to enable a terrible bass and bass/keyboard set piece, followed shortly by a cacophonous, subtlety-and variation-free drum hash up from Tommy Aldridge. The crowd around me were vocalising their disbelief and displeasure in some fairly agricultural language.
That said, when the band managed to find themselves in one place for any length of time, they were capable of some fine moments. Those same sweary fans were as one in belting out every word to ‘Is This Love’, the wonderful ‘Here I Go Again’ and the encore ‘Still Of The Night’.
So the show closed on something of a high. Though not quite lofty enough to atone for those too-frequent moments of showboating and complacency.
The day as a whole, on the other hand, was an unmitigated success of musical diversity, freshness and high quality. Roll on Day 2.
Review by Dave Atkinson
Photos by Paul Clampin
Day 2 (24 July)
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